Landscape and LifeJune 17, 2021
For many of us today, it is hard to escape from the often catastrophic impact of mankind : cities teeming with anonymous crowds jostling through brutal architecture. Too many noisy and dirty cars.
Constant reminders of our destruction of the natural world: fires, floods.
Landscape painting can offer a counterpoint that is both a reminder of and an escape from that relentless awfulness, to let the viewer see an alternative and to gain some uplift, a boost to the soul.
The ‘pastoral idyll’ is not meaningless escapism. We are surrounded by and constantly reminded of the ecological destruction caused by mankind’s relentless march of ‘progress’.
The landscape is the living reflection of the human - environmental relationship, shaped throughout history by the successive interactions between people and their environment. As the numbers of people everywhere continue to grow their impact is becoming ever more obvious.
Our awareness of this reality is also growing.
Of course ‘the first merit of a painting is to be a feast for the eye’ (Delacroix, c.1894), and for many, the purpose of a painting needs to be no more than that.
Art is at the core of culture. What I paint flows from my personal experiences of the world, my personality, my concerns. And your reaction to a painting is similarly shaped by your understanding of what is going on around you. This is ‘culture’. We live in, move around, and are imbued by what is going on around us, and the landscape is the dynamic setting for all that.
Often the artist’s quest is to capture the light - the nuances of shadow, fleeting changes of clouds. Turner, Constable and so many others took the observation of clouds as a serious step in their artistic training. Today we know that the atmosphere we breathe, the air in which those clouds are formed is not some infinite heavenly pool but is the sink for the waste from our exhaust pipes, factory chimneys and farm animals. We understand the impact of methane emissions, CfCs, carbon dioxide and all the rest, so when we escape to the hills and enjoy those immense views, the whole sky is actually a huge manifestation of the demand for more food, more goods, more travel from more and more people.
Of course I seek to create paintings that are going to meet the challenge to be a ‘feast for the eye’, and I seriously hope that viewers will enjoy gazing at them. Cezanne sought to present images of the harmony between man and the earth, of people enjoying that ‘rural idyll’. He lived and worked for a large part of his life in the same locality in southern France and painted views over the same areas over and over again across many years. Even then (late 19th century) the relentless spread of the urban sprawl was obvious to him. Many of the paintings of that time could not be recreated today as the pastoral scene has been replaced by buildings.
In 1953 two men won immortality by being the first to stand on the summit of Everest. Today there are queues. The question that is posed by every landscape painting is “Where is that?” But as that painting is a snapshot of the interaction between mankind and nature at that point in time, maybe the question should be : ”When was that?”
As the impact of our destruction of nature makes it increasingly difficult to find any view that does not include the direct results of economic activity - roads, forestry, sheep, drought - every landscape painting offers something more than is immediatly apparent, it is of its time. Just like the artists are of their time, and the viewers are of theirs.
Landscape is at the core of culture, where the natural world is fashioned by the economic activity of people - like the inside of our home, bearing the marks of our existence and capable of being uplifted or despoiled by what we do.
Pontsticil 2 - 24” x 18” oil on canvas, and 30” x 20” ’ Man with dog’ (basically the same view).
The rural idyll? - NO! - all of the components of this scene are manifestations of economic activity - sheep farming clears the natural growth on the hills. Forestry plantations create monocultures. Roads carve their way through. Past industries leave their marks. Beef farming is a massive global problem not least because of the impact of methane emissions on the atmosphere. The Reservoirs are created to supply the connurbations (and the water contains micro particles of plastic) ….
This is an image of the dynamics of the cultural / economic landscape of Wales.